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The Impact of Social Models

Luke Wroblewski explains the impact of social models at IDEA2009Today saw the IDEA2009 Social Experience Design Conference kick off in Toronto. Luke Wroblewski, Director of “Product Ideation & Design” at Yahoo, gave the first session, where he presented the results of a number of different pieces of research which showed that the way social interactions and relationships are modeled can have a large effect on the way that people behave online. He also uncovered some interesting facts along the way about which types of social model generate the most active users, and what factors influence user behaviour.

He divided social sites into five types of social model:
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"Denial of Service Attack" by kryptyk on Flickr (CC)Today, social networking was attacked. The two biggest networks, Twitter and Facebook, have been subjected to denial of service attacks, causing difficulty for millions of people around the world. Other sites including FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Posterous and su.pr have also experienced outages or slow response times. Social networking services have failed before, but never all at once.

While the precise causes have yet to be established, it’s clear is that today’s events have had a measurable effect on people across the globe, and the loss of multiple social networks at the same time has highlighted some serious issues and limitations

Disconnect, reconnect

One of the first things that happened is that people flooded to other mediums such as e-mail or instant messaging to discuss what was happening. Read more »


I’ve read a few books this summer that look at non-traditional economies. Chris Anderson‘s Free deals with “the future of a radical price”; Tara Hunt‘s The Whuffie Factor looks at the currency of reputation; and Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody talks about the power of self-organizing systems.

Chris and Tara’s books, at their core, deal with a single concept: that a connected society has three distinct economies — money, reputation, and attention — and that businesses depend on their ability to move value between the economies. And Clay’s book shows us that these economies can emerge by themselves without formal organization.

None of these economies are new. It’s just that in an online world, we have more ways of tracking them and understanding their exchange rates. Many of today’s most interesting companies are focused on exchanging value between the three economies, giving rise to many new business opportunities and forcing us to think with a “triple bottom line” mentality.

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Is Apple the new Sony?

Walkman and iPod

Apple’s increasingly restricting what consumers can do with their devices. Now those policies put the company in a battle for openness against the likes of Google.

It’s a competitive dilemma that comes from being in both the platform and the content business. And it’s one Apple should have handled better, because it’s the same mistake another company made that let Apple dominate the portable music market: Sony.

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Maribel Lopez thinks mobility is like the start of A Tale of Two Cities: The best of times, in that never before have so many people been online and using digital services; and the worst of times, in that carriers don’t know what to do as their landline revenues plummet.

As Maribel and I discussed the slides leading up to her presentation today, I remembered James Bond’s watch in The Spy Who Loved Me. It had a printer in it that spooled out a ribbon of text. This struck me as fascinating: The writers couldn’t have Bond carry a personal communicator, because that would be unrealistic to the 1970s audience. As a result, his cigarette case is a microfilm reader, and his shoebrush is a listening device.

More recent Bond films promise a grittier, meaner Bond, stripped of gadgetry (and, given that it’s Daniel Craig, often of shirt.) Truth be told, Bond has just as much technology. It’s simply wrapped up in his car, his computer, and his phone. What was once inconceivable is now commonplace. And Maribel did a great job of laying that out. Dick Tracy doesn’t need a watch, and Maxwell Smart doesn’t need a shoe phone. Mobility has made all of us secret agents.

Mobile by the numbers

How common is this technology? Look at the numbers. China Mobile adds 6.3 subscribers a month. India added 13 million in one month. Nokia sells over a million handsets a day. And there were 4 billion mobile subscribers in the world.
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Chris Anderson on Free

Chris Anderson was first a physicist, then an editor for the Economist. Now he’s the editor of Wired. He also has some interesting hobbies, including a startup based around open source airborne drones. In other words, he’s uniquely qualified to talk about how “free” is transforming the software industry.

Opening up day 2 of the SIIA Software Summit, he presented some exerpts from the forthcoming book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (quite a lot of which is outlined in a series of Wired stories.) Chris was kind enough to give me an uncorrected proof a few weeks ago, and having read that, it’s clear this will be a juggernaut of a book. Free is a disruptive idea resulting from an economy where many of our marginal costs are falling to zero.

There are few places it disrupts more than the software industry, and Chris didn’t mince words with a roomful of industry executives: “The three technologies you guys depend on are becoming too cheap to meter.”

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There’s lots of speculation about Twitter’s business model, from the serious to the comic. The firm’s backers claim the company has plenty of money for the long haul. In fact, given the openness Twitter has traditionally shown with its APIs, the model could be to let all of us speculate about it, then pick the winners.

But I’ll bite. I have an idea how Twitter could make money.

Most of the business models I’ve seen charge the publisher. Why not charge the audience?

We live in an attention economy. We’ve moved beyond the information economy — now, anyone can get access to anything. Instead, we want to know what’s worth our time. Google makes money by ranking information based on relevance; Paris Hilton makes money by pointing us at the scandalous; newspaper editors make money by selecting topics they think their readers will find interesting.

Lots of people are experts on things. I’d pay to follow someone smart and knowledgeable. Maybe only $10 a year, but in return, they’d search for useful information and tell me about it. They might be an expert on cloud computing, or web monitoring, or sustainable food, or transparent government. I’d follow them. I’d get links from them (which only susbscribers would receive, of course) to reports they’d written, or news they’d found.

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I’m listening to YouTube. And I’m loving it.

Funk producer/performer Kutiman released Thru-You, a remixing of YouTube audio that’s what would happen if Girl Talk, DJ Shadow, and Thievery Corporation surfed the web together.

This is what the Internet is good at. It’s a wonderful example of what Clay Shirky calls Organizing without Organizations — millions of video clips of people showing their chops, selected by an editor with decent taste. And with modern editing tools that can combine video and audio, it makes for interesting viewing, too. It’s a ready-made collaborative video.

It also underscores the huge gulf between how people are using technology today and where copyright law stands. With Girl Talk, the artists’ source material was recognizable; in this case, the clips were uploaded with members’ express approval, saying they had the right to them. But they probably didn’t envision them being re-used in this way; some of the clips are from music teachers hoping to promote their classes.

Within a few hours, the site had the following message:

Due to overwhelming traffic we had to go down to re-charge (again). Working on it. Check back later.

Well, it’s back. Manager Boaz says “at this stage there are no plans for an official release of the “Thru-You” project.” Wanna support the guy? Go buy his stuff from Amazon, iTunes, or eMusic; it’s similar, although he plays most of the music himself. But first, give the site a listen.


You’ve seen bad metaphors for the Internet. Pop culture is filled with films where special effects show computer networks as highways, with towering servers encroaching on light-filled roads. These scenes try to represent the Internet as, well, a series of tubes (Play this clip from Hackers to jog your memory.)*

This happens a lot in Hollywood, and in too many cyberpunk novels (like one I’m finishing now just to spite myself.) I forgive William Gibson’s “collective hallucination” and Neil Stephenson’s Metaverse because, well, they’re good books.

But maybe the UI of the future will look like this after all, at least for certain applications. Check out Britain from Above by way of the folks at Flowing Data. Warning: clicking this video may make your browser lock up for a minute for some reason. Be patient, or go to the Youtube playlist.

There are clips for telecommunications, air traffic, and even shipping on the site itself, which is well worth the visit.

I’m a huge believer in visualizing information and making the world more understandable, and the convergence of things like geomapping and GPS are making understanding even easier. These clips resemble nothing if not an RTS for the real world. It makes me want to click and drag routes for cars and boats.

I used to think Tron was a great movie, but not really a UI. Now I’m starting to wonder how these flying-through-data approaches, first conceived as a network metaphor for the non nerd, can become user interfaces.

This is how the prescient visuals of Minority Report slowly become reality.

We’re about to drink from a firehose of positional data as location-aware personal devices replace traditional cellphones and we move towards a sensor-driven world. We have the cloud computing infrastructure to handle massive computing and fast data retrieval. How long until Britain From Above becomes a live Google Earth overlay?

Oh, wait. It already is. Here’s the site’s Google Earth layer. When will web analytics catch up with this?

(*For real fun, check out the eighties-era Mac copy dialog at 8:18 in that Hackers clip. Anachronisms, FTW!)


A group of social networking mischief-makers are bringing a panto to Twitter for the whole world to see.

If you’ve never been to a British pantomime, here’s what to expect:

  • A central cast of actors take common themes and familiar stories, and twist them in new ways
  • Men play women and vice-versa
  • Old jokes are updated with topical humor
  • Everything has a second, and decidedly naughty, meaning.
  • The audience is expected–nay, commanded–to participate.
  • Famous people show up unexpectedly.

It’s a perfect prototype for Twitter, with 140-character repartee and fast-flying innuendos.

And on Tuesday, December 23, a cast and audience are coming together on the microblogging network to put on the first Twitter panto. In true social network style, there’s only loose direction and gentle nudging from the directors. The brainchild of social media consultant John Bounds it’s an interesting holiday experiment.

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